Monday, September 29, 2014

Thy Kingdom Come

Like Jesus, our prayer is that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom come, His will be done … on earth as in heaven. As His workers, we see it as one of our primary functions to allow Him to work through us to accomplish these things here. Vanuatu is a picturesque place and we prefer to share the happy stories, but behind the sand, surf and palm trees, Satan is at work. For instance…

We recently heard of an American who lives in Malekula who innocently went in to a local store to purchase a memory card for his smart phone. Much to his surprise, there were pornographic images preloaded on the card … and what’s worse, they weren’t images downloaded from the internet of girls a thousand miles away, but local girls who had (seemingly) willingly posed for the pics. The influx of cell phones and the widespread availability of internet and camera phones is wreaking havoc throughout the country. We were literally numbed by this report.

We’ve recently been approached (by Christians!) inquiring as to whether it is acceptable for a woman to prostitute herself out to earn money for school fees, if she has the approval of her husband. We tried to answer the inquiries with patience and grace, but we were flabbergasted by the idea. As we began to inquire further, we learned that local, dis-organized prostitution of this sort is a reality, and is growing rapidly in popularity as locals have more dispensable income.

Something that has been particularly dear to our hearts since our early days in Vanuatu is what we term “post-birth abortion.” It seems there’s a new story every month of a baby’s body being found, having been “disposed of” by un-desiring parents (in the ocean, dumpsters, latrines, etc.). No doubt there several more who’s story never even gets told. This is what initially prompted us to communicate our willingness to adopt.

Last but certainly not least is domestic (particularly spousal) abuse. In some ways this is the worst example, because it is so openly accepted and practiced historically and culturally. We pray that this vicious cycle will be broken.

Imagine a world where we all "treat people the same way you want them to treat you."  Blessed are the peacemakers … may it be us! 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Prayers for Steven

During my recent trip to the Shark Bay area of Espiritu Santo Island, Steven confessed his faith in Christ and was baptized. He is the 20 year old son of Toara and Hannah, and is currently working a short term job harvesting timber for a special order to be exported. We spent a lot of time together on Saturday and Sunday (his days off), and he’s also studied in the past with his parents and our former teammate, Mike.

There was great rejoicing Sunday morning as we walked back from the Nanda Blue Hole following his baptism. His parents, in particular, were glowing. The air of excitement affected our entire assembly time that morning. After we dismissed, everyone walked back to the house to visit and eat lunch. Steven came up and called me aside. As I followed him away from the crowd, he turned to show tears streaming down his face. His uncle had heard of his decision, and rebuked him for doing so. His uncle holds some sway over him because he is his namesake and has gifted him some ground there on the plantation (basically making him an heir). He chided him that such a decision was going to ruin his life … specifically that he would no longer be able to “drink, smoke or get married” (not sure where that last one came from?). Steven wasn’t so concerned about the prohibitions, but just wasn’t prepared for the persecution to come so quickly, especially since it was coming from such a dear source. 

We prayed for strength, and visited a bit about how he might handle the situation going forward. Not only will Steven face this familial difficulty, he will no doubt struggle as he lives for Christ among his friends and coworkers. Please be praying for this young Christian as he pursues this new course, that he might be a light in a dark place.

Monday, September 22, 2014

To one of the least of these

I spent a long weekend recently on the east coast of Espiritu Santo Island with Toara and Hannah. They live in the midst of a coconut plantation, and are furthermore surrounded by cows, chickens and pigs. They are sustenance farmers… primarily living from what is produced in their gardens. Fruits and veggies that were available during my visit were beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, plantains, grapefruit, taro, fresh coconut juice, and island cabbage. Yum! They cook over an open fire, bathe and wash clothes in the stream that runs through their land (it’s technically Hannah’s brother’s land, as Toara is from Tongoa Island and moved to Santo to help Hannah’s family in their coconut plantation), and utilize an outhouse for their toilet. They recently added a 50w solar panel and car battery that allows them to run some low wattage 12v LEDs at night - they’ve gone big time!

Hannah and Toara aren’t a part of a large congregation (some Sundays it’s just them and their kids assembled together), and they’ve never “taught and baptized” anyone. Nevertheless, it was clear to me after just five days with them that they are living for Christ. What do I mean? While I was present with them, I couldn’t stop picturing Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. A primary example of this relates to the children at their house. Toara and Hannah have given birth to Steven, Willy, Priscilla, James, and Sarah. They work hard to provide for their needs. It is clearly evident that they love these children and desperately want to instill a faith in Christ in them. But the list doesn’t stop there…

Yanik was born to Toara’s sister, and is about 14 years old. I don’t know the details, but he has been living with Toara and Hannah for a long time (perhaps his entire life). They love and provide for him as if he were their own, and he is blessed to now be a part of a Christian family.

Joel Robert joined the family at birth, a little over three years ago. He was born on a ship at sea to a woman with severe mental problems. One of Toara’s distant cousins was the father (they were not in a relationship). He was unwilling to care for the child, and the birth mother was incapable, and so Toara and Hannah took Joel in as an infant, as they were considered “next of kin.” 

Anies (pronounced “Annie-yes”) was dropped off at Hannah and Toara’s house last December by her father. She is approximately 5 years old and has cerebral palsy. I don’t know if her biological parents were ever married, but know that they are no longer together. The bio-mother came and got Anies in June, but returned her in less than a month because she was “tired of dealing with her.” The bio-father drops a package of diapers off at the road once a month or so, but has little else to do with assisting the family in raising Anies. Hannah can’t leave Anies alone for any length of time, and since she’s getting too heavy to carry, this greatly inhibits her ability to go and work in the garden as she needs … thus, Toara’s workload is increased as well. Hannah bottle feeds Anies three or four times per day, as she never learned to chew and swallow, changes her diapers/clothes regularly, and bathes her in a large washtub. She also works hard to help Anies’ flexibility and mental stimulation.

The brief glimpses into these three children I’ve provided don’t do justice in communicating what a difference Toara and Hannah are making in their lives. Or rather, what Jesus is doing through Hannah and Toara. Would you please be praying for this lovely Christian couple, as they struggle and sacrifice in order to be Jesus to the least of these? What a great reminder and example of Christlikeness they are to me!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: To catch a mouse

One could probably make a pretty good case for the mouse to be the national animal of Vanuatu...they're everywhere. Lots of natural produce and resulting bi-products make for great feasts and breeding grounds.

Fun fact: a mouse/rat can climb a coconut tree, chew a coconut stem causing it to fall to the ground, and gnaw through the THICK husk and relatively-soft shell to get to the flesh inside...pretty impressive feat.

Here's a pic of the area under some shelving at our Malekula house after we'd been away for a month:

Fun fact: to date, I've killed two mice at our Malekula house ... one with a machete and one with a metal pipe. #realman

Here's a pic of a trap we rigged up at our house in Vila recently:

Believe it or not, the trap worked, and we had a drowned mouse in the bucket the next morning. #success

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exam in Progress

After eleven weeks of studying an eleven-point outline of the Bible Story with the youth group in Etas (taught each week by Atison), exam day came. The kids were nervous (hey, you aren’t supposed to have tests at church school, right?!?), but they had been digesting the material well, and I know that they studied their outline a lot. We had also performed an activity that lead them through the story physically, focusing especially on the movements of Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and ultimately Jesus.

My ultimate goal, of course, is that they solidify this information in their minds as a foundation for current and future Bible study. I have become a firm believer in contextual/narrative understanding for effective Bible study, and believe grasping this big-picture is an initial step (after learning the books of the Bible and their general groupings).

The majority of them (we average 10-12 kids each week) did very well, with only the younger ones having some trouble putting things down on paper (I think they knew the material better than their scores proved). These youth show such promise and potential, and they are exciting to be around. Be praying for them!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sowing seeds

I was recently presented with a unique seed-sowing opportunity, both literally and figuratively. But first, some background info… Back in 2005, Aaron and Cindy met Sam and his family in town. They are originally from Tanna Island, but came to the Vila area many years ago for work. They live in Etas Village, and through Sam and Leimawa’s conversion to Christ in January 2006, much of Sam’s family has been impacted by the gospel message he lives and preaches, both here on Efate and back in Tanna.

Sam’s sister, Nepina, is one such example. She subsequently set her family on a course for Jesus, with two of her six children having been baptized into Christ (Ruth in 2010 and Jimmy earlier this year). Her remaining four boys are active in the church and/or youth group, and show signs of growing faith in Jesus. This is an especially big deal because her husband, Iapsei (“Yop-say”) is known as a “Kleva” (i.e. witch-doctor). He is a local medicine man, whom locals visit so that he can have dreams and visions based on their condition, prescribing activities and potions to run out the evil spirits that are causing the issues. As you might imagine, he has little interest in (holy) spiritual things, but thankfully he has not prevented his wife and kids from following Christ.

Prior to the event reported below, the only encounter I have had with Iapsei is when I saw him passed out drunk on the sidewalk in town one afternoon, with Nepina standing beside him almost in tears, having no idea how she was going to get her husband back to the village before nightfall. A couple of men and I threw him into the back of our truck and I took them home. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great first impression, as I spent the next several minutes cleaning vomit out of the truck. Nepina was mortifiedly embarrassed, but grateful.

Fast forward almost a year, and Sam informed me of an interesting request (and one I still don’t totally understand, but I’m going with it!). He told me that Iapsei had asked something of me… that I get him some watermelon seeds to plant in his garden. “Whaaa?” you ask. Me too! But Sam tells me that this is Iapsei’s way of initiating a relationship with me. Apparently, while he is actually interested in learning more about being a disciple of Jesus, he has to go about it in a roundabout way. I have now delivered four packages of watermelon seeds to Iapsei, and pray that these “seeds” will ultimately find soft soil in which to produce fruit. God is working, and it is exciting to be a part of. Would you be praying with us?

Nepina teaching Bible class in Etas, including her son, Richard (blonde hair)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Preaching Jesus' sermon

A few months ago the congregation we work with in Vila decided to begin meeting together on Wednesday nights. We weren't sure how many people would be able to attend, but decided that even if only a few could gather together it would still be beneficial. The primary purpose of our time together is to share a meal and visit - taking a break from the everyday worries of life and fostering spiritual relationships.

I do very little preaching on Sunday mornings (the native brethren are entirely capable), and so they asked if I would be willing to share some studies during our Wednesday night gatherings. I didn't want it be something where I stand up in front and talk for 20-30 minutes, and thus decided to make it less formal and more interactional. We all simply remain casually seated around the room and I lead the group through a study with a fair amount of questions and discussion. We are now in the final phases of going through Jesus' sermon on the mount from Matthew 5,6 and 7, and I have been so very pleased with the participation and interest shown.

I taught on Mt 7:1-6 recently, and for the first time it struck me that in v.1 Jesus says "do not judge" but in v.5 He says that there is a time to "take the speck out of your brother's eye." The difference would seem to be one of attitude. When we [a] recognize our own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, and [b] foster genuine relationships with others, only then are we truly in a position to humbly help them deal with sin and shortfall (rather than indignantly judging them). I understand this to be the point of Jesus' proverb in v.6 - it's an utter waste of time to judge superficially (e.g. wasting food on dogs or pearls on pigs), and actually ends up causing more harm than good. Being a former tax collector himself, I see Matthew focusing a lot on the Pharisees' (who were well-known for speaking disparagingly of tax collectors, Mt 9:10-13) negative attributes in his gospel account. It appears that chief among their problems was prideful judgmentalism of others, which stemmed from self-righteous arrogance and a lack of concern for their fellow man.

Lord, please help us refrain from such Pharisaistic tendencies. Remind us of our sinfulness and help us foster relationship, a combination that will facilitate our working together and building up one another. Thank you for the premier example you have shown us in Jesus. Amen.